The unionist movement in the Republic of Moldova has always benefited from the contribution of some intellectuals and could count on the votes of about 10% of the electorate. This electorate has become increasingly fragmented in recent years, amid differences between unionists, who have split into competing parties. The centrifugal trend has worsened over time and it is very likely that not even for the snap elections of July 11 the unionist forces will be able to coagulate.
The main issues are personal pride, wrong political calculations and too much passion that sometimes replaces reason. Last but not least, that dose of Machiavellianism that should exist in any political party is missing, given that in order to implement its vision and program it must take over the power.
The fragmentation of the votes in the unionist right-wing area can only benefit the left-wing parties that will cross the electoral threshold, as they will receive, upon redistribution, part of the unionists’ votes.
Two major parties seem to be favored by voters in the unionist segment: the Party of National Unity (PUN), led by the historian Octavian Țîcu, and the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR). The latter was legally established in Chisinau on March 27, and in the last two weeks it has managed to absorb three smaller parties, which stand no chance of entering Parliament by themselves.
The deadlock occurred for AUR when it tried the same approach with PUN. Despite some probing, the two sides did not manage to get along, and they even got to throwing harsh words at each other, which shows lack of diplomacy on either side.
I spoke with the leaders of both parties in Chisinau, with the PUN leader Octavian Ticu, and with Valeriu Munteanu, former president of the Save Bessarabia Union, currently representative of AUR Moldova, in a bid to understand why they decided to go their separate ways in the election.
Between founding father and “primus inter pares”
The leader of PUN, Octavian Țîcu, has stated for Veridica.ro that his party will no longer carry out any negotiations with AUR, after the National Council of the party unanimously decided on May 22 that the party would go alone in these elections, the decision being a “sacrosanct” one.
Asked why he did not want to use AUR as a political vehicle to increase their chances of reaching Parliament, the PUN leader explained that he would have liked a common platform with several actors in the unionist area.
“But I don't necessarily want to get to Parliament on the AUR platform. We proposed a unionist platform based on several components and not necessarily under the AUR logo. We wanted a neutral bloc. We saw it as a compromise solution, even though a late one. You should know that blocs do not work in Republic of Moldova as we may think”, Țîcu said. He also explained that AUR came to the Republic of Moldova with the attitude of a founding father. “We wanted an extended unionist platform as we have at PUN. The platform is of the ‘one to one’ type [...] But the selfishness of AUR, which came and said: we have 10% and you have to go below us, left us perplexed. We had no choice but follow the path that we had been tracing for ourselves. In fact, we were the first to generate the union of the unionists back in December 2020, immediately after the presidential elections ", the PUN leader also said. Octavian Țîcu also explained that PUN wants to keep observing the integrity principle and work with quality people, who represent this segment. “Just think that they really had nothing here in the Republic of Moldova. They had Vlad Bilețchi, after which Valeriu Munteanu and Dorin Chirtoacă joined. And they realized later that they had no organization and no people. Also, the image of AUR is not very good, both in Romania and here. Some of its leaders are compromised from the start and others are politically expired, and now they’ve understood that their only chance is for PUN to clear their image and make every effort to get them into Parliament. We can enter Parliament without them, but let's keep this alternative intact, intellectual and honest, as we started it”, he added. Octavian Țîcu is of the opinion that the unionist segment has been compromised by many other leaders before and explained that this lack of cohesion is not limited to unionists, as it can also be found in other segments of the electorate. “In the end, the idea of uniting the unionists is a thing that the Russian politruks planted in our minds, namely, “if you, the unionist [politicians], cannot get together, then you cannot achieve union.” And this is not true, because even those who fight for European integration do not unite. Why doesn't anyone ask why PLDM does not unite with PAS and PPDA or PD?”, he said. Finally, the PUN leader called for a truce between the unionist forces and for fair competition, even if coagulation seems rather impossible at the moment. “Whoever is more convincing will win, but our enemies are Igor Dodon, Renato Usatii, Ilan Shor and Mark Tcaciuk. They are our political opponents. Not even PAS and PPDA can be called opponents; they are our competitors, but they are not our enemies. With PAS and PPDA we can forge an alliance for union, because otherwise the unionists will not achieve union by themselves” Țîcu concluded.
Under the flag of AUR
On the other side, the representative of AUR and former deputy and Minister of Environment, Valeriu Munteanu, told us that the problem lies in the inflexible attitude of Octavian Țîcu, despite the fact that AUR managed to enter the Romanian Parliament as an "outsider". “After the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) entered the Romanian Parliament, we considered that the participation in these elections and the union of the unionists can be done under the flag of AUR. Then we came, from SBU, then Mr. Dorin Chirtoaca with the Liberal Party, so the only one left was Mr. Țîcu who said he could not accept the AUR offer and come on the lists of this party and proposed an electoral bloc. We accepted the electoral bloc, after which he said he’d changed his mind and said he no longer wanted a political bloc. And that’s how the discussion ended”, Munteanu stated. However, he said the doors were not completely closed, despite the fact that both parties had already registered with the CEC and would take different paths. “Of course, there would be room [for fresh negotiations]. Today we have submitted the lists for the parliamentary elections to the CEC. There would be another option, in the scenario in which we assume that Mr. Țîcu accepts, we both withdraw what we’ve submitted to the CEC and then restart as an electoral bloc. Ţîcu can withdraw his people and then come on the AUR lists. There are alternatives, but Octavian Țîcu is not answering his phone now”, he added. Munteanu is confident that there is “no doubt that AUR will enter the Parliament in Chisinau”. “On December 6, 2020, in the Romanian parliamentary elections, AUR received 60,000 votes from the Bessarabians abroad. With a turnout of about 50% of the electorate, it would be enough to cross the 6% threshold and enter Parliament. I don't think anyone doubts that AUR will enter Parliament. We’ve already seen polls conducted by other colleagues. We don't have our own polls, but we will, after June 12th. In the polls I saw we have 6-7%”, he added. In his vision, the approach followed in the last 30 years in Bessarabia has been wrong, namely the expectation that a potential union would be achieved by the parties in Chisinau. “We have always considered that we can make the union only with parties from Chisinau, but we have not succeeded in this. But AUR is a party from Timișoara to Tiraspol and with this party we participate in these elections”, he concluded.
Chances, figures and challenges
As regards AUR, its image in the Republic of Moldova is different from that in Romania. If in Romania the party receives, often justifiably, labels such as “anti-European”, nationalist with extremist, xenophobic and even provocative tendencies, it’s not the same in Chisinau. George Simion, one of the co-presidents of AUR, is still perceived as the main activist for this cause of unionism. In fact, AUR will get some of PAS’s votes from the right wing in the European diaspora. AUR, as the successor of the 2012 Platform, is quite popular among the Bessarabians who went abroad, to the European Union. If we take the number of votes cast in the presidential elections of November 2020 in the Republic of Moldova - 1,633,621 - with a turnout of 58.22%, the six percent required for AUR to enter the Parliament in Chisinau would be 98,017. Given that the elections will take place in mid-summer, the turnout may not exceed 50%, as happened in the first round of last year's presidential elections. Much depends on how the parties will manage to mobilize voters to the polls for this election.
How will AUR politically capitalize on Romania’s image in Chisinau
AUR will try to draw political dividends in the Republic of Moldova precisely from those it curses Romania, more precisely the president Klaus Iohannis and the prime minister Florin Cîțu. Klaus Iohannis promised 200,000 vaccines, and Romania voted for twice as much, the aid provided to the Republic of Moldova being implemented by the government. And this good impression made by Romania in Moldova will be speculated, exploited and then electorally capitalized on by AUR. The pandemic brought AUR into the Romanian Parliament with an anti-system and anti-medical speech that promoted a conspiracy theory and exploited the Romanians' fears; the good feelings triggered by Romania's help in fighting the pandemic can now help them reach the parliament of the Republic of Moldova. Polls show that Romania is now liked as much as it was back in the 1990, when the Bridges of Flowers were built. In the last year alone, the unionist option has risen from 34% to about 44%. Statistically speaking, one in four Bessarabians also has Romanian citizenship, and their number may rise by the end of 2021 to one third. Also, in recent years, Romania has consolidated its position as the main trading partner of the Republic of Moldova. A large part of these benefits and figures might get converted into votes that could send AUR into the Chisinau Parliament. It remains to be seen whether, if it gets there, it will trigger new challenges, both for Romania and for the Republic of Moldova, or, its policy in Bucharest aside, will become in Chisinau that political force that can make a difference and give a European government.